Reflections on Supreme Master
Ching Hai's Poetry

By Poet Phung Minh Tien

(Originally in Aulacese)

Mr. Phung Minh Tien ( first from right)

    Writing poems is difficult; writing elegant poetry is even more difficult. Writing elegant poetry and at the same time conveying noble feelings, profound thoughts, a distant past, a tumultuous present, and a blissful future, is indeed infinitely more challenging.

    Fortunately, in this century, we have been blessed with the marvelous union between talent and enlightenment in the poetry of Supreme Master Ching Hai. Her poems, assembled in such collections as Wu Tzu Poems, Traces of Previous Lives, The Dream of a Butterfly, The Lost Memories, and The Old Time, were composed on Her path to Self-discovery as She searched for the Truth. Through Her exaltation of the God Nature in all sentient beings, an immense world of liberation has been opened. She encourages humanity to break through binding attachments, earthly body's limitations and preconceived ignorance, so that the Self may soar to glorious realms.

    The Poet has been described modestly as follows:

    “Supreme Master Ching Hai was born in Au Lac. As a young adult, She went abroad to study Later, She traveled to many countries and famous holy sites in search of the Truth. After a tim.e of seclusion and practice in the Himalayas, She attained enlightenment.

    At present, with infinite compassion, Supreme Master Ching Hai teaches the Quan Yin Method to sincere Truth-seekers.”

    The Poet came of age in a war-torn country, where family love, romantic love, and even patriotic love had to be forsaken:

My child, just follow the others;
I can neither laugh nor cry at this moment!

    Every leave-taking is filled with sadness, because a safe and joyful place has to be abandoned for a seemingly vast and stormy unfamiliar world:

You’ve gone to the end of the horizon,
The world is vast, who knows if a return is ever to come?
In the heart of a stormy ocean,
I wonder what the tiny sea shell longs for?

~ “A Farewell to My Child” from Traces of Previous Lives ~

    In such immensity, human beings feel more than ever, that their insignificant and humble fate is overburdened with trials and tribulations, bound by so much yearning, hope, sorrow and separation:

Who has stopped here long ago, then took off
To thousands of stations, and hundreds of waters?...
I’m so young and growing with hopes,
Day after day, the foolish widow.

Will you return, or never come back?
Am I forgotten? Or should I stop yearning?
I wish to follow you on thousands of strange roads,
Like silky moonlight –never ceases shining!...

~ “Love Melody 2” from The Lost Memories ~

    Displaced in a discontented world, She witnessed life’s many vicissitudes: its faint hopes and desperate pursuits, awakened mornings and evanescent evenings. The more a person struggles, the more he or she is surrounded by futile obsessions and shattered dreams. All these troubles besiege the human fate, such that reveries turn into nightmares, and hope vanishes into thin air:

There were times tomorrow wouldn’t arrive;
I waited all night, feeling very, very tired!
My soul was immersed in an endless nightmare,
Struggling so hard to be free from the sea of misery!
Like a bird in the middle of the stormy sky,
Immense oceans couldn’t contain my melancholy.

    Then what’s left in this life? Perhaps a solitary silhouette on the road under the setting sun, a veil of forest mist looming ahead as the person looks back at a bygone childhood. And the present is like the torrential rain and freezing snow, echoing melancholy melodies.

There were times the sun would not rise;
I prayed in vain for the future to arrive;

And so it went –the rain came, followed by falling leaves,
Day and night, time flowed indifferently,
My heart still felt there was something incomplete,
Perhaps it was a love I’d never discovered before.

~ “Untitled 1” from The Dream of a Butterfly ~

    On life’s stormy roads, the Artist, who is now praised by people throughout the world as Supreme Master Ching Hai, continued on Her voyage: one day Germany, the next Italy, England, Nepal, India, and Tibet... Each footstep is directed toward the search, each moment a time for reflection. Searching and reflecting are the seeds of liberation and realization. One cannot sit in an ivory tower and comprehend an ever-changing world. People cannot understand their own fate without relating to the outside world and other beings.

    Going forward, embarking on the journey, setting sail out in the ocean... From these processes, the Artist became a philosopher and a thinker. Through self-examination and self-confession, She rid Herself of personal desires, transient obsessions, superficial wealth and fame, decaying bodies, and fleeting exchanges, to reach for majestic dimensions and glorious heavens:

I lived through many days of deception.
Love had not begun and I already talked of adoration.
Sweet utterance dangling between my lips,
My words were warm, yet my heart felt cold.
. . .
I passed many shores, both muddy and clear,
Washed my profane face, and then adorned it again.
In my greed, I looked for fame, riches and a large house,
Traded my ideals for days of affluence somehow.

. . .
Many upheavals later I was suddenly awake.
Is that all there is to life? I would ask myself?
Several decades later, life remains insignificant.
What is the use of chasing after fame and wealth?

~ “Confession” from The Old Time ~

    After colliding with stark reality and fierce competition for fame and profit, if one is still attached to and mired in ignorance, then the physical self will just continue to indulge in transgressions and eventually decompose like the plants. More than anyone, Supreme Master Ching Hai asked Herself, and from this self-reflection the answer resounded:

What will I do in the days ahead,
When youthful cheeks cease to be rosy, hair ceases to be shiny.
When the breathing stops, is it death or regeneration?
Jesus and Buddha both taught that hell and heaven exist!

~ “Confession” from The Old Time ~

    As She continued onward, deep contemplation followed each of Her footsteps. Everywhere She went, She saw traces of sorrow in the human world:

Back to the old city,
Heard the waking of first love,
But the bird in the cage could no longer fly;
Mixing tears with ink on the page,
Wrote love songs of golden days!

Gardens full of shadows of ghosts.
Didn’t fade away through wintry rain!
One day I stopped between voyages,
Wondered how much passion left in vain?!...

~ “Old Town, Past Love!” from The Lost Memories ~

    The more She traveled along the path, the more Supreme Master Ching Hai realized that this world is only a transient place, and the human being a pitiable creature. With a generous and loving heart, She felt anguish not so much for Herself, but for the human plight:

That afternoon, I too wanted to be a statue,
Standing in the open space, watching the buzzing scenes.
A strange sadness overcame my sorrowful heart:
The compassion I felt, for me or for the multitude?

~ “Winter Afternoon and Stone Statue” from The Dream of a Butterfly ~

    From pain and misfortune, people learn and mature. The world is eventually seen as an illusion. After experiencing suffering and hardship, the spirit will ascend to the higher regions, becoming ubiquitous like the wind, like an ocean of love and reunion:

And a stranger, on this foreign Earth,
Walking twilight, hear winds call summer,
Western sun now fragile, rain so soft,
Like the sailing day on Pacific waters.

Tender hair, swinging pine forest,
Deep eyes travel through tropical dreams...
Why drowning in ocean of grief?
Come, come home to the sweet silk arms.

We shall hail, and adorn the universe,
We shall dance and sing, unite the world,
We shall light golden fires on hilltops,
Warming the sky of wintry future.

~ "Love Melody 1"from The Lost Memories ~

    And like a loving mother who always wants her children to be safe and happy, like a dear sister who wants to uplift her unfortunate brothers and sisters from despair:

I have arrived –do you not know?
Reserved, with me, always the pink lotus.
Awaiting you, generations have passed,
Promised to return, do you not remember?

I want to lead you away over the clouds,
Bright with halos, divine music, and lotus in bloom.
Yet you remain lost in the land of illusionary dreams,
Never to have left the old port, yet to be reborn!

~ "Eternal Beloved" from The Dream of a Butterfly ~

    One day, there shall be a happy gathering, when the flowers of true love shall blossom. Although the rain and sun, rivers and mountains can keep people physically apart, they cannot contain the tenderhearted feelings humans have for each other, like sunflowers blooming under the sun:

How many miles to summer?
How many miles to spring?
How many months for one Golden August?
How many days for one Glorious Second?

~ "Love Melody 4" from The Lost Memories ~

    Kind and open, the heart of a Saint fills the world. Personal sentiments and self-serving dreams vanish, making room for an immense ocean of love, for tolerance and forgiveness:

I want to find the celestial granaries
To scatter grains on mountains, forests, to feed all the birds,
When I see, in the wintry gusts,
Poor creatures on ragged wings looking for the leftover!!

~ "Buddha's Sadness" from The Dream of a Butterfly ~

    From lonely traces of previous lives on Earth, walking amid countless human illusions, still at the root, Supreme Master Ching Hai was already an extraordinary being. Born and submerged in a secular world, the noble seed still sprang up, sprouting continuously with every footstep as She traveled in the suffering realm. Each step carried an experience; every look expressed a reflection. From all that, the essence of the universe culminated within Her, enabling Her to reach the eternal soul and an everlasting world, one without either death or birth.

    The destination to eternity cannot be arrived at overnight; one has to undergo many incarnations, through hardship and accrued karma:

Once I came upon an empty mansion
Spiderwebs curtained the broken door,
Crickets chirped at the gate ajar!
Through vacant rooms the wind howled
As if ancient spirits wandered about in mourning.

~ "Abandoned Mansion" from Wu Tzu Poems ~

    Living in such a dismal world, regardless of how strong a person is, there will be times when he or she feels fragile and distressed:

O Buddha on the radiant dais high above,
I’m so lost, stumbling through the long night!
I want to be devout, but still it’s beyond my reach
Wanting to be virtuous, yet always deep in sin.

Many times I tell myself to repent
But binding ties beckon me toward the reincarnate existence.

    The upheavals in this world never cease their detrimental impact on a pure heart. Desire for fame, glamour and extravagance, wealth and opulence: all have buried countless innocent souls. Supreme Master Ching Hai, too, had gone through all that tumult, yet She did not falter, for Her soul is too expansive: She knew how to rely on the spiritual path to attain self-liberation.

Once again, I drift aimlessly in the ocean of life
Bewildered, unsure of direction...
At night still dreaming of glory and achievement,
Just to awake and face the boring reality in broad daylight.

Nightmares are heavy curtains that obscure my wisdom,
And calamities sway my faith.
Being weak, I gauge every staggering step
Relying on the light of Truth to guide me through the passageway of darkness.

    The struggle between evil and good, between attachment and freedom, between ignorance and enlightenment, between holding on and letting go, between staying and leaving, between the finite and the infinite, between Earth and Heaven, between impermanence and eternity, is always an intense and tragic struggle. Each choice inevitably carries its own pain and anguish.

Many times I want to sever all attachments
But my heart clings to karmic bindings.
Love weaves its web, daily survival ties me down!
The harder the struggle, the deeper the entanglement...

~ "Like the Clouds High Above" from Wu Tzu Poems ~

    The worldly path that we traverse daily makes us sink more deeply into the labyrinth. The labyrinth itself has so many of its own amazing attractions – the illusions of life – that we sometimes deceive ourselves, thinking that they are true happiness. Led into the dark maze, we become lost and forget the way back to the celestial kingdom:

When you came here, dreams of Heaven were forgotten –
Cherishing some earthly love for self-amusement.
Watching you is heartbreaking:
Once having entered the labyrinth,
Who knows when you’ll exit!

~ “The Labyrinth” from Wu Tzu Poems ~

    There have always been conflicts between people and people, between people and life, between decadence and virtue, between submersion and liberation. Such struggles cause tragedies for human lives, and this is the karma we have to pay for the debts owed from previous incarnations:

Returning home, there’s no joy left in me.
Balancing worldly life and spirituality, all alone with desperation!
Being born into this material plane,
I’ve acquired unending debt from previous existence.

~ “A Visit to Dharma Flower Temple” from Wu Tzu Poems ~

    Due to the debts incurred from previous lifetimes, due to the choice of separation from the Source, and the struggles of transformation, people at times tend to be resigned: their consciousness and physical bodies have accumulated so much suffering and illusion! Albert Camus, in Exile and the Kingdom, bemoaned that the true home of humans must be in some other world and that this Earth is only a place of exile, where people become estranged from themselves and others. When people die is when they truly go back to their beloved homeland and are reborn into their own true world:

I wait for death each second of the day
Like an expectant mother waiting to deliver!
Why am I still young, yet to grow wiser?
Ever close to misery, so far from paradise...

~ "Awaiting Death" from Wu Tzu Poems ~

    To die is to be liberated, and to return to our true and cherished homeland; such is the lamentation of so many lifetimes, of so many thinkers, writers and poets. A poet named Huy Can once wrote:

Sorrow has ripened, please pluck it down.
Dust receive me whether Heaven or hell.

    In this ephemeral existence, exhausted from struggles in the course of life, human beings often feel despondent and wish to give up. This is common. But for someone like Supreme Master Ching Hai, who has been cultivating the seeds of liberating humanity, of loving sentient beings infinitely, and of dissolving hindering karma, the flower of eternity has already blossomed within Her:

I love you as I love myself
Like my love for the five continents, the mountains and rivers.
Tomorrow’s goodbye, who will cry?
This bow is to repay the love and deep affection!

~ “I Love You” from Wu Tzu Poems ~

    Although She had to walk away from personal relationships, Supreme Master Ching Hai never wanted to abandon anyone. In Her heart, She vowed that one day when She attained enlightenment, She would return to this world to save others:

Praised be the Buddha whose light guides my way,
And protects you in your lonely days.

One day, I’ll be enlightened and bring illumination to the world,
We will be together for eternity...

~ "For the One Who Stayed Behind" from The Dream of a Butterfly ~

    Her pledge to save humanity was fulfilled. Because of Her great benevolence and profound wisdom, and because the world was still in turmoil, Supreme Master Ching Hai wished not to enjoy the bliss of Nirvana alone. Instead, She returned to this world as a Bodhisattva, walking among the multitude:

The Bodhisattva’s life is filled with hardship
Sentient beings are hard to save, upheavals difficult to gauge!
Reborn into the ephemeral Earth
Borrowing a temporary body to help the world.

~"“The Bodhisattva's Lotus" from Wu Tzu Poems ~

    With the merits derived through Her spiritual practice, She experienced miracles from the Almighty and was immersed in divine love:

Practiced for thousands of years, just for this day:
To be near the Revered Almighty!

You’re like a green palm tree in the desert
Protecting my soul with eternal cool shade.
All the treasures in the many worlds
Cannot compare to the dust under Your holy feet.

    The more blessings She received from the Creator, the more She did not want to enjoy the bliss by Herself. Indeed, She has always been concerned about human ignorance:

I weep silently, feeling sympathy for the world
On the gloomy path they continue to tread!
You have come, yet no one knows
Your divine being exiled to this misery.

~ "A Great Holy Teacher" from Wu Tzu Poems ~

    With a noble heart, a dedication for service, and boundless love, Supreme Master Ching Hai has shared Her inner thoughts and feelings in Her elegant poetry. On the path She traveled, accompanying every saintly footstep were lotus blossoms and an abundance of brilliant verses. The more one reads Her poems, the more one feels a revival of hope, an infinite power, and a pure heart.

    In a bleak world filled with misery and illusory memories, it seems as if the soul were sinking in despair. But in the confine of that muddy pond, the seed of divine yearning begins to sprout. The great writer Dostoevsky once said that only those who returned from death have the right to sing in this world.

    Supreme Master Ching Hai has reminded us that liberation and enlightenment are to be experienced through patience and endurance, the path through which She already passed. From the lonely and bewildered moments of Her previous lives, Supreme Master Ching Hai experienced firsthand the discovery of liberation and awakening. The roads She traveled were paved with endless suffering, but from there, She cleansed off the dust of life to purify the body, elevate the mind, and find a way to save sentient beings. Her poems reflect this holy path.

    Reading Her poetry and observing Her every footstep, we light up our own path and purify ourselves, so that we can follow Her noble journey to arrive at an eternally peaceful realm.

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